This post reviews Henk Blok and Sjoerd Karsten, “Inspection of Home Education in European Countries” in European Journal of Education 46, no. 1 (2011), pp. 138-152.
The countries covered are these: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
For each the authors give a succinct summary of the nation’s homeschooling situation, and they recap it all in a convenient chart. Over at the ICHER website we have our own graphic with some of this information, but Blok and Karsten give much more detail.
After summarizing the situation in each of the 14 countries they make a few generalizations and conclude with four policy recommendations. First the generalizations:
11 of the 14 countries explicitly allow for home education as a legal right. Germany and the Netherlands are the outliers here, as we have discussed numerous times on this blog. All of the countries that allow for homeschooling require some sort of registration process except for Ireland, which officially requires registration but imposes no penalty for failing to comply. All countries that allow for home education also have some sort of regulation put in place. These range from very low levels of regulation (basically just notifying the specified authority of intent to homeschool) to very high levels, which could include anything from requiring parents to submit written documents about their methods and attending meetings (England, Belgium, and Ireland) to requiring home visits (Belgium), to requiring achievement tests (Estonia, Finland, Italy, Portugal). In general one can say that most countries require some sort of inspection annually. The authors note that the diversity of regulations here is not unlike the diversity you see among Canadian provinces and the states of the United States.
Finally, the authors suggest four policy items related to their findings. First, they’d like to see across the board a more “consistent, transparent, and efficient” (p. 150) method of registration. Currently it’s far too haphazard and localized, meaning that we don’t have trustworthy data even about the raw number of children being homeschooled in these countries.
Second, the authors use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the European Convention on Human Rights, which all of these countries have signed, to argue that there should be fewer regulations placed on parents in some countries. This is a very interesting argument given the fierce opposition to the UNCRC by many conservative homeschoolers in the United States. Blok and Karsten, in contrast, see the UNCRC as a bulwark against government curriculum requirements or mandated standardized tests. Why? Because such requirements ignore
the fact that children can differ strongly in their development because of their individual talents and efforts. In addition [such requirements place] a considerable limitation on parents’ right to determine the areas of emphasis in home education. We have the impression that the legitimacy of some obstacles is based on the interest of society as a whole rather than on that of the child. We believe, in accordance with the UNCRC, that the rights of the child should prevail. We recommend that the individual countries critically consider the question of whether the obstacles raised take into account the interest of the child to develop in a multifaceted manner and the interest of the parents to guarantee an education that is consistent with individual religious or philosophical beliefs…. (p. 150-151)
The third recommendation is similar to the first. Just as countries need a more centralized and efficient registration protocol, so they also need clearer descriptions of requirements with which homeschoolers must comply to ensure a process that is marked again by “transparency, consistency, and efficiency.”
Fourth, the authors conclude by reminding everyone that home education is not a marginal subject. Governments across Europe have heretofore treated it in a slapdash, localized manner, failing to keep good records, and generally ignoring it. Both government and academic researchers should give it more attention.
I enjoyed this article very much. It performs a much-needed service by bringing together in one convenient place the best and most current information available about the legal situation in all of the countries it includes. Furthermore, it makes suggestions I found to be reasonable and nonpartisan. Most powerfully, it shows that far from being the dangerous threat to the family HSLDA and other conservative activists make it out to be, the UNCRC can in fact be used by home education advocates to enhance the status of home-based learning and to combat excessive government regulations. That’s a lot for 14 pages!
Let me add briefly that I’ll be taking the rest of January off from this blog due to responsibilities at my college. I’ll be back in the second week of February with more homeschooling research to review.